It’s been close to two weeks since I arrived at Midway. I spent one night in Honolulu waiting for my flight to the island via a private chartered Gulfstream jet. It was my first time on one of these executive flights and it was pretty luxurious, including faux-gold finishes everywhere and as much potato chips and soda as we could handle. On the flight was a team of about six NOAA Marine Debris people, a couple US Fish & Wildlife employees, a cook, and two other volunteers Yuki and Savannah.
Our flight arrived Midway in the evening to reduce the possibility of bird impacts with the aircraft, and when we landed I understood why. Thousands of bonin petrels flew above us as we walked down the airplane stairway. They fly in a very erratic pattern reminiscent of bats. The sound of petrels and albatross was pleasant but deafening. A handful of contractors met us at the plane and took our luggage to our respective lodging. My house, which I share with the other two volunteers, is extremely large and includes maid quarters and a large lanai. My bedroom is gigantic (big enough to do cartwheels, which we did).
The next morning I really got to enjoy the island in daylight. Hundreds of thousands of Laysan and black footed albatross litter the island. Having evolved without the presence of mammalian predators, they’re very comfortable being right next to you and often walk up and examine your belongings or your clothes with their beaks. The chicks are extremely limited in mobility and generally sit in the same spot all day waiting for their parents to return with food. They are fat and downy and warm.
The color of the water is electric. It’s a clear bright turquoise blue in the entire atoll except where the military dredged a ship/submarine channel many years ago, and the color in those areas turns from rich to dark blue. We eat at the Clipper House Galley three times a day, and our picnic tables overlook the atoll while albatross, tropicbirds, canaries, and the occasional frigatebirds fly overhead.
Work so far has been mainly centered around training and orientation, but about 90% of our work is in the field. So far we’ve been working around the Laysan Teal, a critically endangered duck that is highly susceptible to avian botulism. Every morning we check various ponds for signs of botulism or sick ducks. We’ve also been managing habitat for this seabird colony by weeding and outplanting native species of grasses, forbs, or woody plants. We even help with CO2 monitoring for a NOAA office based out of Colorado. I also helped (by carrying equipment) with an ecotoxicology study on part of the island.
I’ve already been snorkeling three times. The first was underneath Cargo Pier where the water drops to around 50 feet deep. Large ulua and sea turtles were seen, along with a bunch of different coral fishes. On Thursday April 21st, we took a US FWS boat out to the northern fringing reef and snorkeled for an hour and a half. It was spectacular. I’ll share videos with you all soon.
I’ll be collecting marine debris (plastics) from the beach after the NOAA Marine Debris team leaves the island on April 27th. They’re collecting data from the trash they collect, so I don’t want to skew any of their data.
I want to thank all of the wonderful people who have donated to help me come to Midway.
I honestly would not be here without you. As promised, I will keep the photos coming, but I may have to rethink my video strategy considering the internet connection on the island is extremely limited in bandwidth, and videos are monumentally larger than photos in bytesize.Laysan albatross chick
Questions or comments? Email me: james (at) jamesweaver.net